Great food, history to be found in SoHa (South Harlem)


The notion that uptown is a destination for the young and fashionable is becoming more common thanks to the dynamic neighborhood of South Harlem.

Situated just above Central Park and extending from 110th Street to 125th Street, South Harlem, also called SoHa, has a rich history and boasts an impressive array of new restaurants, bars and residences with all the amenities found in their downtown counterparts.

“I love the vibe up here,” said Donna Kreeger, 55, a sales broker with Citi Habitats and a South Harlem resident of nine years. “There’s such a mix of things to enjoy. It has a positive energy and really feels like a community.”

The area was always a vibrant place, but not for the same reasons.

In the early 20th century, SoHa served as a backdrop to some of the most important works of art produced in that time period.

In Minton’s Playhouse at 201 W. 118th St. — now known as Minton’s — jam sessions featuring jazz greats such as Dizzy Gillespie, Charlie Parker and Thelonious Monk were the driving force behind the creation of Bebop in the 1940s.

The neighborhood also played a vital role in the Harlem Renaissance, the cultural and artistic movement featuring African American writers, poets, musicians and artists between the end of World War I and the mid-1930s.

It also possesses one of the most distinguished architectural histories in the city.

Beautiful examples of late-19th-century Gilded Age design are visible in the stately homes lining the streets of the 16-block Mount Morris Park Historic District, anchored by Marcus Garvey Park.

Graham Court, at 116th Street and Adam Clayton Powell Jr. Boulevard, is an Italian Palazzo-style apartment building completed in 1901.

For those looking for housing in the area, there are a variety of options ranging from pre-war walkups to luxury condos.

New developments such as Circa Central Park, on Frederick Douglass Circle, and One Morningside Park at 312 W. 110th St. are introducing a new level of luxury to SoHa.

“People now view Harlem as a destination,” Kreeger said. “With the new higher-end properties, there is such a variety here of what people want in their neighborhood.”

Real estate prices reflect the increased interest in the neighborhood.

The median sales price in SoHa rose from $495,000 in 2013 to $827,500 in 2015, according to StreetEasy.

The median rent rose from $2,500 in 2013 to $2,700 in 2015, the listings site found.

To figure out what’s luring newcomers to the area, take a walk down Frederick Douglass Boulevard.

A thriving restaurant scene is attracting foodies, tourists and curious New Yorkers looking for the latest taste trends developing between 110th and 125th streets.

Streetbird, which opened in April 2015 at 2149 Frederick Douglass Blvd., is Marcus Samuelsson’s second foray into SoHa after Red Rooster, on Lenox Avenue, and offers rotisserie chicken and noodle dishes in a space decorated in memorabilia paying homage to Harlem’s past.

Zoma, further south on the boulevard near 113th Street, opened in 2006 and features authentic Ethiopian food and a sleek decor.

Patisserie des Ambassades, which popped up near 119th in 2005, is a Senegalese-French cafe popular for its croissants and tarts.

For those looking to cook at home, a Best Market opened in 2010 at 2187 Frederick Douglass Blvd., offering fresh produce and even a craft beer selection, and a Whole Foods at 125th Street and Malcolm X Boulevard is scheduled to open in early 2017.

However, not everyone is sold on the new version of SoHa, with its focus on fancy residences and trendy eateries.

“The more Harlem comes to resemble every other place in Manhattan, the more people rejoice,” said Michael Henry Adams, an author, historian and activist who has lived in Harlem for 30 years. “Harlem is as special as Paris, Rome or Venice, and it is being lost for something quite ordinary. That’s an unfortunate thing.”

But others are still satisfied with the nabe.

“It’s a great place to live,” said Kristen Anderson, 29, a fundraiser originally from Long Island. “There are so many new places to shop and eat, and it’s quieter up here, but you’re still in Manhattan.”

Find it:

South Harlem is bordered to the east by the FDR Drive and to the west by Morningside Drive below 123rd Street and St. Nicholas Avenue above it. It sits between West 110th Street/Central Park North and West 125th Street.

The Cecil

210 W. 118th St.

Named "Best New Restaurant in America" by Esquire in 2014, this Afro-Asian-American brasserie features cuisine from James Beard-nominated chef Joseph "JJ" Johnson.

Thececilharlem.com

LoLo's Seafood Shack

303 W. 116th St.

A casual counter-service spot serving Caribbean-inspired seafood creations, including seafood boils: plastic bags filled with peel and eat shrimp, snow crab or crawfish. Order it with LoLo's special sauce.

Lolosseafoodshack.com

Miss Mamie's Spoonbread Too

366 W. 110th St.

A contender for best fried chicken in the city. The meatloaf and catfish, along with standout sides like collard greens aren't to be missed either.

Spoonbreadinc.com

(Credit: Jeremy Bales)

Bier International

2099 Frederick Douglass Blvd.

There are 18 international beers on draft at Harlem's first German biergarten, as well as a wide variety of sausages.

Bierinternational.com

Harlem Tavern

301 W. 115th St.

Head to this bar and beer garden for live music on Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday nights or the jazz brunch on Saturdays and Sundays.

Harlemtavern.com

Moca

2210 Frederick Douglass Blvd.

Sip on uniquely-themed cocktails like the Harlem Shuffle and the Booty Call Martini at this plush lounge with a dance floor and DJs spinning dance favorites. Tuesday is erotic poetry night.

212-665-8081

(Credit: Jeremy Bales)

Trunk Show Designer Consignment

275-277 W. 113th St.

Vintage fashions from designers Stella McCartney and Christian Louboutin fill the racks. Consignment split for all items sold here is 50/50.

Trunkshowconsignment.com

Bebenoir

2164 Frederick Douglass Blvd.

Founded by Guinea native Ibrahima Doukoure, this boutique offers a stylish mix of traditional West African wear with a modern twist.

Bebenoir.com

Harlem Underground

20 E. 125th St.

Find T-shirts that sport Harlem pride or handmade jewelry by local designers, among other urban-style retail items.

Facebook.com/HarlemUnderground

(Credit: Jeremy Bales)

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Marcus Garvey Park

18 Mount Morris Park W.

The more than 150-year-old Harlem Fire Watchtower, located in the park, is the only surviving cast iron watchtower in New York.

Nycgovparks.org

Land Yoga

2116 Frederick Douglass Blvd.

Specializing in Ashtanga-style yoga, there's a class for everyone from children, to beginner adults and experts.

Landyoga.com

Martin Luther King Jr. Park

Lenox Avenue between West 113th and 114th streets

Bring the kids and teens to the basketball and handball courts or to play in the playground.

Nycgovparks.org

(Credit: Jeremy Bales)

The title character of the 2009 Academy Award nominated film "Precious," played by Gabourey Sidibe, attends a school in the Hotel Theresa, now known as the Theresa Towers, at 2082-96 Adam Clayton Powell Jr. Blvd. Famed nightclub Minton's Playhouse at 206 W. 118th St., which is now a supper club known as Minton's, played a pivotal role in the development of modern jazz music hosting musicians including Charlie Parker, Dizzy Gillespie and Thelonious Monk.

(Credit: Jeremy Bales)

Trains

A and D to 125th Street

B and C to Cathedral Pkway-110th Street, 116th Street and 125th Street

2 and 3 to Central Park North-110th Street, 116th Street and 125th Street

Buses

M1, M2, M3, M4, M7, M10, M60, M98, M100, M101, M102, M116 Bx15

(Credit: Jeremy Bales)

Median sales price: $827,500

Number of units on market: 377

Median rental price: $2,700

Number of rentals on market: 1,763

(Source: StreetEasy)

(Credit: Jeremy Bales)

Frederick Douglass Circle, at the northwestern corner of Central Park, is getting a shiny new residential development.

A long-planned reconstruction of the circle, which was formerly home to a BP gas station, was completed in 2010. Among other new features are a bronze statue of Douglass in the center of a memorial featuring a water wall and inscribed details about the famous abolitionist's life.

Now, an 11-story, 48-unit condo is going up at 285 W. 110th St. and is expected to open to tenants in early 2017.

Circa Central Park will offer copious amenities and units with panoramic views of the park.

As of press time, 13 condos were in contract, with penthouse 2A going for more than $7 million, according to the listings site StreetEasy.

And some may be able to experience life with a park view at more affordable prices. Ten condos in Circa Central Park -- two studios, three one-bedrooms, and five two-bedrooms -- were set aside for affordable housing, but applications for the units were due by July 26.

The NYC Housing Partnership, which oversees affordable housing in the city, estimates that prices for studios will begin at $225,294 while the two-bedroom units will start at $364,260.

Locals have mixed feelings on the new development, according to a neighborhood expert.

"Before the Frederick Douglass Circle, there was no circle at all," noted Danny Brookings, a DJ, Harlem resident and member of Friends of Frederick Douglass Circle. "It was the only corner of Central Park without one."

However, he added that "the Circa Central Park building is just another building going up in a neighborhood that doesn't really need another building."

(Credit: Jeremy Bales)

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Sade Lythcott was born and raised in Harlem and is the CEO of the National Black Theatre at 2031 Fifth Ave. The community-based African American theater company was founded in 1968 by Lythcott's mother, Harlem visionary Dr. Barbara Ann Teer. When Teer passed away in 2008, Lythcott, now 38, stepped away from a career in fashion to take over the NBT.

What role does your theater serve in Harlem?

The role that the National Black Theatre plays currently is as an outlet for the authentic experience of the African American playwright. I think that becomes more and more important and critical in the shifting of the neighborhood because we all have to live in this community together. We all really want to understand how we all got here and how we can create community that feeds us.

Does NBT change with the neighborhood?

The demographic of our audience has shifted, partially because the demographic of our neighborhood has shifted so quickly. But our mission has stayed the same. We have a really diverse audience in terms of gender, age, ethnicity and income, so we get to have these wonderful conversations with everyone now. If anything, I think it's deepened our mission and deepened our work.

What are your early memories of this area?

I know what the headlines said about Harlem in the '70s and '80s, but it was this really free time and space. And my mom ran a theater! I knew how to sing and dance and act before I knew how to read and do math. It was a magical time. It was this creative environment where everybody looked out for everybody else.

What's your perfect Harlem night out?

Well, I'm biased, so of course a play and a talkback at National Black Theatre. My favorite Italian food in Harlem is at Vinateria [at 2211 Frederick Douglass Blvd.] I love the vibe and cultural collision clash that happens at Shrine [at 2271 Adam Clayton Powell Jr. Blvd.] and the live music there.

(Credit: Thomas Wirthensohn)

 

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